5 myths about writing books … and why you should start writing yours
A book can be an invaluable marketing tool for yourself or your business.
By book, I don’t the mean the proverbial Great American novel, that half-finished pile of fiction that so many people supposedly have stored in the cloud somewhere. I mean a focused, well-crafted non-fiction book. Whether in e-form or physical form, books are a very efficient way to transfer knowledge with enough depth and detail to establish and enhance the author’s reputation and give readers useful insights or a competitive edge.
As someone who has ghostwritten books and co-authored a couple myself, I can understand why people buy into a lot of the myths about writing books. You face writer’s block, the fruitless hunt for that “big idea”, and probably won’t sell enough books to justify the effort.
I have also learned that these myths are just that: myths. Let’s look at a few of the biggest ones and debunk them, one by one.
“I won’t make any money”: If you use a traditional book publisher’s metrics, this might be true. My own book was not a best-seller by any means. My latest semi-annual royalty check wasn’t even sufficient to take my family to see the latest Star Wars movie. If you are a business author, success doesn’t depend on how much money you earn from the book. It depends on how much you earn with the book. Enough of the right people bought my book and liked it enough to call personally and then commission projects. The revenue directly attributable to those projects was over $1 million. Those projects helped launch a business that is now generating many times that amount annually. That is the kind of return you need to aim for, and the kind of return a book can deliver.
“I don’t have a big idea”: You know what? That’s good news! We would all love to launch a trend or establish a buzzword, but we have about as much chance of that as we do of singing like Adele and becoming ubiquitous. Reality check. Hello. Focus on changing your niche, not saving the world. The fact that we now live in a fragmented world full of niches and micro-segments is an opportunity. Establish your “big fish, small pond” success story before aiming higher. I’m an arch-optimist and hate to discourage anyone, but small ideas can still have a huge effect on the right audience. It is a question of aiming right, not aiming low.
“I can’t write”: Most people would probably say “right, join the club.” This seems like the problem without a cure, as little has changed between this article from 1964 and this one from 2015. My response: so what! You are probably also not professionally skilled as an interior decorator, plumber, construction worker, cook, tailor, or car mechanic. We outsource those tasks to trained professionals, usually providing them with our own ideas and then letting them do their thing. The same works for writing. It’s a thrill for us to listen to an author’s vision, review the raw material, and help the author to shape a book that helps him or her shine. You didn’t build your house, right? A book is a dream home for your best ideas, and your name goes on the mailbox. We are the contractor behind the scenes.
“I can’t fill a whole book”: Books come in all shapes and sizes now, and you shouldn’t feel limited by constraints of form or length. In one of my favorite books Rework the authors write that “We cut this book in half between the next-to-last and final drafts. From 57,000 words to about 27,000 words. Trust us, it’s better for it.” If you can go longer, that’s fine. The last book my partner and I collaborated with an author on is called Confessions of The Pricing Man. It came out at just under 100,000 words, which fit the material. Give your idea the treatment it deserves, and then stop.
“I don’t have the time”: Yes, writing your book is not a “just add water” process, even if you do find the right team. Your biggest time commitment is usually in promoting your finished book, not the process of structuring and writing it. Even the best book doesn’t sell itself. Our team helps with all three phases – structuring, writing, and promotion. But when you start to view your book as a sound marketing investment rather than a labor of love or an indulgence, you will be able to carve out time to work on it, just as you would for any other activity which has prospects for a good ROI.
I hope that eliminates most of your excuses for not writing your own book. A book is an excellent way to establish your credibility, share what you know, and turn you into a go-to authority in your niche or business community. It is no coincidence that the words “author” and “authority” ultimately derive from the same root.
If you are still struggling to get started, give me a shout. We’d love to hear your ideas.
Frank Luby is co-founder and CEO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. He co-authored the book “10/10: How to write business content that is memorable and effective” and was part of the team which translated and edited “Confessions of The Pricing Man” for author Hermann Simon. You can also follow Frank on Twitter: @FrankLuby